Out with the conventional, third person tourism, in with the new, immersive tourism.
In a meeting held by the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA) last summer, its president Cesar Cruz unveiled that they are brewing up a new kind tourism, which involves its consumers in different ways to preserve a tourist spot’s cultural heritage. With its initial product to be dubbed Cordillera Weekend Heritage Warrior, Cruz says that the tour package is aligned with their advocacy.
PHILTOA has partnered with photographer John Chua, whose efforts in rehabilitating the famous Banaue Rice Terraces reached the group. Cruz said, “I heard about him and thought it was aligned with our advocacy because Batad is one of the destinations where we bring our tourists. So when I learned about Mr. Chua’s advocacy, we invited him to see the possibility on how we can take it on our advocacy. He also wants to partner with some groups who want to convert his vision to the business side.”
The tour operators and sponsors are studying the feasibility and commercial potential of the tour package by doing test runs among themselves. The group hopes to formally offer the package in time for the biggest tourism convention in the country, the 23rd Philippine Travel Mart, which will be held on August 10 to 12 at the SMX Convention Center in Manila.
Cruz said that the tour, when launched, will be guaranteed to run every month. “Before, photo shoots for our sponsors were made in hotels. This time, we will be bringing them to Batad for the photo shoot.”
At the forthcoming Philippine Travel Mart, Philtoa will be offering Cordillera Weekend Heritage Warrior. And this will run on a guaranteed basis every month,” he said. “Anyone can participate in the program.”
The rice terraces in Cordillera has gained the recognition of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organizarion (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site. The rice terraces were inducted in the World Heritage List in 1995.
However, because of climate change, neglect, and storms hitting the landscape, the Cordillera rice terraces were placed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in danger. Chua, upon realizing the deteriorating condition of the tourist site, was inspired to do his share in saving the important landmark.
“When I was shooting [there] and I asked a young fellow kung bakit di nila inaayos [yung rice terraces], he said that they’re still waiting for funds from the government. So when I went back to the town, because I’m sort of an adopted son of Banaue, I had a meeting with the elders. I asked them, ‘where is the spirit of bayanihan?’ The elders said I have a nice idea, which is reviving the spirit. And they called it bachang,” Chua said. Bachang is the Ifugao word for bayanihan.
Because of the efforts of Chua, as well as his weekend volunteers who helped in repairing the damage in the terraces, the Cordillera Rice Terraces has been removed from UNESCO’s threatened World Heritage Sites.
National Parks Development Committee chair Juliet Villegas realized how powerful heritage sites are in attracting tourists in the country, creating strong national identity, as well as teaching them the country’s history.
“The connection of heritage and tourism is not far. They’re very crucial, and they are stitched together to what we call our historical events. They are stitched so that we are able to protect our cultural and natural resources. We’re able to educate our tourists, our visitors, our local people to build closer, stronger, and better communities so that we are able to build a better product, and that’s the product of the Philippines that promotes economic and civic dynamism as well as vitality of the overall region, the Philippine islands,” Villegas said.
“These are the pride of our country. All of us should appreciate our heritage,” she added.